A remote village school in Slovakia has become a world leader in the FAST Heroes stroke awareness campaign. Meet the 113 children who completed their Grand Mission with distinction, and the teacher whose enthusiasm encourages them to punch above their weight.
The village of Liesek in rural northern Slovakia has only one school, located in a three-storey building on Staničná Street near the centre of town. It’s an ordinary elementary school that prepares the children of Liesek for secondary school in Trstená, just 5km away. But what is remarkable about Liesek Elementary School is that it is attended by 113 superheroes.
Make that 114, because at least one of the teachers at the school has a superpower that helped this remote village school succeed at a global level.
Liesek Elementary is one of 143 schools in Slovakia that have so far participated in the FAST Heroes project, an award-winning initiative that leverages children’s enthusiasm for learning and sharing to transfer knowledge about stroke to their parents and grandparents.
Participating schools appear on a leaderboard on the FAST Heroes website, earning points by completing e-books and beating their own personal best in the online games. Five weeks after Liesek Elementary started the project in March 2021, the school ranked first out of almost 2,000 participating schools from 27 countries, and over 450 grandparents in the village were safer thanks to their knowledge of stroke.
Miss Reháková’s superpower
Lenka Reháková loves being a teacher. “After all, it’s the most beautiful profession in the world,” she says, quoting Alberto Manzi, the intrepid elementary school teacher from the 2014 Italian movie, It’s Never Too Late.
“Teaching is my hobby,” she declares, and when she catches the bus from her hometown Trstená to Liesek as she has every weekday morning since 2004, she cannot wait to see her pupils.
“I like that every day at school is completely different. I can experience new situations all the time. I get to know new people. I am happy to see that the pupils like it at school. They are creative and enthusiastic about activities during class. I enjoy when pupils observe the world around them, make discoveries, figure out new things, explain, solve problems and learn through this. They notice the people around them, they are willing to help and they do help.”
Miss Reháková’s infectious enthusiasm has helped the little school in Liesek excel in several projects, including a healthcare campaign during which they won an experiential first aid course for first graders, an accredited first aid course for teachers and an automated external defibrillator for the school, and a sports academy under the auspices of one of Slovakia’s Olympic heroes, the race walker Matej Tóth.
Her pupils enjoyed the action-packed FAST Heroes videos, the online games and above all being cast as superheroes with a Grand Mission to save their grandparents, Miss Reháková says. She was glad of the opportunity to refresh her own knowledge of stroke and liked the strategy of children becoming a vehicle for educating parents and grandparents. "I have learned that even a difficult topic such as stroke can be handled in an attractive, understandable and age-appropriate way for children.”
The number of children involved in the campaign at her school was “one more than the magic number, 112,” she says, referring to the emergency number the children were taught to dial to summon an ambulance. Miss Reháková never lets a teaching opportunity slide.
Grand Mission accomplished
Even before the village got its 113 superheroes, Liesek was a good place for grandparents and grandchildren.
Life here is simple, and work can be backbreaking, but a large number of multigenerational families live in its almost identical pitched-roof houses, and those grandparents who don’t live in the same household as their grandchildren, most likely live on the same street. This proximity allows close relationships to flourish, with children enjoying the benefit of their grandparents’ time and attention, so it’s no wonder the children of Liesek embarked on their Grand Mission with such zeal.
They were happy and proud that they were ready to protect someone close to them from the consequences of stroke, they told television reporters who came to the village to meet the world-beating superheroes.
With the nearest stroke-treating hospital over an hour away speedy action is vital, and the children’s ability to recognise the symptoms means help will be on the way as fast as you can dial 112.
Slovak grandparents across the country can count on 7 their own superheroes as 5,300 children in Slovakia have by now earned their capes. The country boasts
the second highest rate of participation in the world in terms of schools per 100,000 inhabitants, and Lubica Fidesova of GrapePR, the agency responsible for implementing FAST Heroes in Slovakia, hopes that even more schools will get involved in the second phase, which starts next March.
With stroke the second leading cause of death in the country, Slovakia can never have too many superheroes ready to join the fight against the Evil Clot and save the world, one grandparent at a time.